About 40 supporters for the Rapid City Area School District's $189.5 million bond issue gathered Monday morning near the Pennington County Administration Center to hold a rally and then walk to the County Auditor's office to cast their ballots.
Early voting for the bond issue began Monday and runs through Feb. 24. The special election is scheduled for Feb. 25.
Val Simpson, co-chair of the Vote YES for RC Schools campaign, said it is time for the community to stand up for public schools and not fall for the "scare tactics" of an opposition group.
"We are going to stay focused on the facts, because we like the facts, not scare tactics, and we don't like voodoo math," Simpson said to cheers from the crowd. "We are going to stay focused on optimism for this community, not doomsday and fear. We are going to focus on solutions in a really thought-out, deliberate facilities plan that has been vetted."
Monday's rally attracted people from different aspects of the community who stood together to support the school bond.
"We really are a grassroots effort with volunteers who have come together from all walks of life," Simpson said. "We're parents and grandparents, educators and business leaders, different political parties that have come together for a common purpose — to improve our community."
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If approved, the bond would fund infrastructure improvements, school building renovations, the construction of three new elementary schools, a new middle school, safety and security upgrades, technology upgrades and deferred maintenance projects across the Rapid City Area Schools' district.
Four elementary schools — Canyon Lake, Robbinsdale, Wilson and Horace Mann — would close, with some buildings being razed because of deteriorating conditions and others being repurposed for school district programs. The new middle school would be a rebuild of South Middle School on the existing land.
The school bond must receive 60% of the vote in order to pass. If voters approve the measure, property taxes within the borders of the Rapid City Area School District would be raised. The levy assumption over the 25-year life of the bond is that property taxes would increase by 85 cents per $1,000 of property value.
Rapid City Mayor Steve Allender spoke at Monday's rally. He said he supports the school bond and described it as a significant turning point for the community.
"The workers who are being born today will grow up and either be disadvantaged or advantaged based in large part with the type of education they are afforded," Allender said. "You can't do that by being forced to bus to another school. You can't do that in a double-wide (annex) and you can't do that in a community that doesn't value education."
Allender said a strong, well-educated community is vital for the future of Rapid City and it is time for the community to invest in education by passing the bond issue.
However, Allender acknowledged the challenge of passing a measure that raises taxes.
"This has got the makings of a very ugly campaign because on this end of the state, for some reason, we don't like the idea of paying for anything. We want everything, but we just don't want to pay for it," he said. "This is our job to stand up for this community on this issue — to ignore the naysayers, to make more contacts with people who think like you, who care about the community and care about our children."
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